One of the most important parts of the Autofocus system is the concept of “dismissal”.
The Autofocus instructions state:
If you go to a page and no item stands out for you on your first pass through it, then all the outstanding items on that page are dismissed without re-entering them.
This is where the system finally gets rid of all the items which you entered without evaluation, but which the system has sifted and found wanting. This may happen very quickly (for instance if you have entered a long list of books you are thinking of reading), but more usually quite slowly.
Please take the rule not to re-enter these items seriously. It doesn’t mean you can never re-enter them, but you should let some time pass before you do and consider carefully why they were rejected, whether they really need to be done at all, whether the time is ripe for them to be done, whether they distract from your main goals, and any other factors. When you do re-enter a dismissed item, it is often best to break it down or re-phrase it in some way.
The instructions make it clear that dismissal is where the final stage of the “autofocus” aspect of the system takes place. This is why it is possible to put tasks and projects into the system without evaluation. Without the dismissal process, Autofocus would simply be a method of working a to-do list and little more.
Every page on your AF list is going to face you at some stage with the choice of either doing the final task on the page or dismissing it. Of course more than one task may get dismissed on the page, but the choice always comes down to: “Do it NOW, or admit that you are not going to do it at all”. Normally of course this stark choice only comes after you have had plenty of opportunity to do the task.
Yes, a task can be re-instated by being eventually re-entered on the list, but this should never be something that takes place without considered thought - preferably after some time has passed. There are four major factors which the instructions ask you to consider along with anything else that may be relevant:
- why the task was rejected
- whether it really needs to be done at all
- whether the time is now ripe for it to be done
- whether the task distracts from your main goals
The instructions invite you initially to enter tasks on your list without evaluating them. This makes AF very different from most time management systems. But, once a task has been sifted and dismissed, then evaluation of the task must take place. If the task has been evaluated and it has been decided to re-enter it, the instructions suggest that you should consider:
- breaking the task down further
- re-writing it
I can’t stress how important it is to the proper working of the system to get this right. Your understanding of the dismissal process will affect how you tackle all your tasks within AF.
There are two common mistakes made by beginners to AF with regard to dismissal. One is to be too willing to dismiss tasks, and the other is to be too reluctant to dismiss tasks.
In fact these are not two mistakes at all - they are the same mistake. In both cases, the beginner has taken a conscious attitude towards dismissal: willing/reluctant.
The instructions say nothing about taking any attitude towards dismissal. They simply state: If you go to a page and no item stands out for you on your first pass through it, then all the outstanding items on that page are dismissed without re-entering them. So the only matter to be considered is whether any item stands out. You don’t need to consciously consider whether the item should be dismissed at all - your intuition will have already taken all relevant factors into account.